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I am an animal. I am a fighter. It is who I am. Each day it is the crack of the whip and the ring of a bell. It is the creed I live by, the carrot or the stick. Each rosy dawn I awaken to greet a new day, a new challenge, and always a new fight. The musty, warm smell of hay will surround me and the rustle and snort of my herd members will always be heard. The round pen we are contained in is only enough to hold me. If it weren’t for that Powder River corral, I would be free, free to run and escape the restraint placed upon me. I am a fighter, one who fights for his right to freedom. I am nothing else.

I was born from one of the finest bucking mares for miles, in a small dusty corral, on the eve of June. My early days are now a blur to me, nothing but feelings and short memories. I do remember the man. Burly, rough, smelling of sweat and woodsmoke, he would bring the hay, loaded in his arms. “You are my winner, little firebrand,” he would mumble to me under his breath. “Soon you will be a bucking legend among the best of the best.” He would sigh and scuff his boot against the dusty, hard ground, then, whistling a slow sad song, he would trudge back to the house. Little mind I paid him then. It is interesting that after so long he would remain in my memory and not fade away like most of my other memories from my youth. I scarcely recall my own mother, so why, above all, should a man remain in my memory instead? A mystery, to me, it remains.

I do remember, however, the weaning. Harshly separated from my mother, and all I knew disappeared in the bat of an eye. No more were the quiet peaceful days with my mother in the sun. Introduced were the long lonely nights and the endless nickering of the frightened colts around me, a never-ending cry of bleak misery. I began to rely only on myself for comfort, never anyone else. I became the fighter I am today. I became “the animal.”

The Fighter man riding a horse
I live to fight, and I fight to live

I don’t remember the first time I bucked. I remember my first rodeo, however. The noise, the smells, the fear. Never before and never again will I feel such fear. I trembled with adrenaline and terror, wide eyes engulfing my surroundings, as the fear engulfed me. I was driven from the pen in the back to the long queue of bucking chutes, forced in, and entrapped. Then came the saddle, the heap of leather and cloth, heaved on your back for the first time and strapped on under your belly. I despised it. However, even more than that, I despised the rider that followed it, plopping down on my back like he owned it and taking an infuriating tight grip on the lead rope attached to my halter and around my sides with his legs. The fires of hate boiled a frothing stew inside me, raging and foaming within me, fueling my desire to break free and show the infuriating human on my back who was boss. I remember wriggling and shuffling in the chute, tossing my head and stamping my feet in furious impatience. Then, the bell rang and the gate opened.

There is something about the bell, the buzzer, or the opening of the gate that sends a fighter, a bucking horse, into a mad rage. I see the gap and I release all of my fury, all of the hate that boiled within me while inside the chute. I shot out of the chute like I was shot from a cannon, kicking up my heels and leaping like a madman. My rider, I could feel, was flopping around, gouging me with his spurs and hanging on to the rigging for dear life. I leapt and spun, bucked and kicked, dodged and reared, whirling and tossing my rider about furiously. In a matter of moments, I catapulted my rider from my back, sending him in a wonderful arch to land with a thump on the ground nearby. I recall clearly the roar of the immense crowd and the shrill ring of the buzzer seconds later, and in a rush, I was herded from the arena. Still mad with fear, I circled inside my pen nervously, snorting and plunging about. Little did I know, that for the years following, I would have many days like this, fighting days.

For the years following, I would grow fiercer, increasingly wiser, and forever more determined. I would learn to trick, learn to fight harder, learn to deceive. I would acquire the titles The Nightmare and The Animal, which I maintain to this day, taking them with pride, knowing they mean I can fight and win. I would become known for the ferocity in my fight, the success at the end, and the sheer determination I fight with. I live to fight, and I fight to live. It’s as simple as that.

As I have said before, each morning I awaken to greet the new challenge ahead of me. I will feel the adrenaline, the hate, the fear. They will drive me into the chute, where I will be trapped, saddled, and mounted. I will feel the frothing madness and the overwhelming desire to throw my rider. I will fight. Like a caged animal, I will fight to be free, fight to show who is boss. I am an animal, a fierce fighting animal. It’s who I am, always will be. It is drilled into me, planted inside me, by instinct, by breeding, by influence from man. I am the fighter, and that will never change.

The Fighter Jenna Fields
Jenna Fields, 12
Coyote, California

The Fighter Christine Troll
Christine Troll, 11
Somerset, Pennsylvania